Why is American literature, though very correct, so flat in style? Why does such a large gap yawn between our passive and actives vocabularies? Why can we not speak even with the same precision we use in writing? Why do Americans talk so stupid?
I think one great contributing factor is that education no longer includes recitation. Upon learning lessons in various subjects, our ancestors used to recite these lessons verbatim in order to receive credit. While problems may have existed with this model, the entire disappearance of recitation probably tongue-ties us, leaving us to compensate with shortcuts – to memorize catch-phrases from tv shows, to express indignation with a tiny repertoire of curses and enthusiasm with a tiny repertoire of slang, to have difficult finishing any sentence longer than 8 or 9 words on the fly, and to consider people who can come up with a colorful or unusual word in the course of conversation as grotesquely abnormal. (“You talk like a book!”)
Even involvement in theater might help. But I can’t imagine any course of exercise more conducive to verbal fluency than to write essays to a grammatical and vocabularic standard, memorize them, and then recite them for credit. Surely some brain-training would result? I’m going to try it with my son.
Meanwhile, I’d like to hear from anyone with experience related to my little theory. Are you involved in theater? Has your education, or that of someone you know, involved recitation, even of poems or scripture? If so, have you seen any effects?
P.S. I wonder – might this exercise also help students acquire verbal reasoning skills – and even overcome shyness?
Also, we must consider that resurrecting this educational practice might require several generations to exert its full effect. The first generation might see only a 5 to 15 percent increase in verbal fluency – but next would be able to build further improvement on that increase since the conversation its students would hear at home during their early years would be somewhat more able than their parents’ was.
We could also consider the potential effect of this practice on national discourse and politics.